Tag Archives: Inversions

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Graceful Yogi

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Pincha Mayurasana: Forearm Stand

Hello friends! Michelle, the Graceful Yogi and a fellow teacher trainee of mine was kind enough to provide a post in my absence! Lucky you guys get some tips from an expert teacher and student with an abundance of experience with inversions. I had the honor of photographing her at Gasworks Park in Seattle this summer, and can’t wait to share more from the shoot with you! 

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Process and Key Actions for Pincha Mayurasana:
For Pincha Mayurasana, I start in a strong Dolphin pose with my forearms parallel and hands pressing firmly into the mat. I tuck my tailbone a little, engaging Mula Bandha and my core so that my torso is strong and integrated. Once I feel solid in my Dolphin, I shift my gaze forward between my hands.
I lift my right leg high, careful to keep my hips as even as possible and keep my core engaged. I begin to shift my weight toward my hands and roll my left heel and eventually toe off the ground, bringing my hips over my shoulders. I slowly bring my left foot to meet my right in the air, keeping my gaze forward and my torso engaged. My hips are stacked direclty over my shoulders, and my shoulders are stacked over my elbows.
Fun Variations:
When I first started working on variations I hada major breakthrough learning:
to sustain Pincha, it is imperative for me to have my shoulders over my elbows, so that my arms make a right angle; this lets me use the structure of my skeleton to hold me up, taking some strain from my back and shoulder muscles. To do this, I press down through my hands, energetically lift my weight out of my shoulders, and find a tiny bit more backbend in the middle of my back. This is a VERY deep backbend (contortionists do it in the circus). A good indicator is to see if you can comfortably bring your forearms to the ground in Urdvha Danurasana, Wheel pose (guidance on this below). Vrischikasana is essentially the same shape, with the added challenge of bringing your feet to your head.
From Pincha, I start by energetically lengthening my whole body toward the sky, creating space in my spine and lightness in my shoulders. I allow a little more bend in my mid-back, creating more of a crescent shape with my body. Once I feel stable there, I mentally glue my feet together and start to bend both knees so that my feet come toward my head. From here, it’s a balancing act. I think about the feeling of Urdvha Danurasana in my back as I shift my gaze a little further forward, out past my hands. My feet come over my head, my hips are over my mid-back rather than over my shoulders, and my shoulders have to shift slightly forward (NOT back! This will knock me over almost instantly) to counterbalance my hips. It is not uncommon for me to put a little too much weight forward and fall into Urdvha Danurasana from here :).
“Weed Whacker”
Bring your right leg toward your head until it is mostly parallel with the ground as you bend your left leg so that the toes on both feet are pointing in the same direction. From here, begin to rotate your legs clockwise, bringing your right leg out to the side and extending your left leg to the other side, coming into a wide legged straddle; inverted straddles are a great passive stretch for the groin and release for the hip flexors. Continue rotating your legs clockwise until your left leg is extended over your head and your right leg is bent. Continue in the same direction or switch to counter-clockwise. It’s a fun balance challenge, and builds endurance in Pincha.
Important Tips for all variations:
-Keep your core engaged to help you balance and take the strain out of your back
-Send energy out through your toes to keep lightness in your arms and shoulders
-Use your skeleton to your advantage: stack shoulders over elbows and hips over shoulders (even though Scorpion deviates from this a bit, it is still a helpful way to think about how you are aligning your joints in Scorpion)
My Photo

Michelle Chambers I have always been in love with movement, using all of my being to express an emotion, an idea, a prayer. I did this through ballet for many years, until my body decided yoga was a better idea. I soon discovered that yoga was therapeutic not only for my aching back and joints, but also for my mind and even my soul. As I grew in my physical practice, I began to explore each asana as a means of expressing the love and gratitude in my heart. Inspired by this flow of grace, I completed a Vinyasa yoga teacher training with Silvia Mordini to share the freedom and joy of movement through the physical, mental, and spiritual practice of yoga. 
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Inversion Tips from Graceful Yogi

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INVERSION PRACTICE TIPS & TRICKS:
Be brave. Most people like to use the wall to get comfortable with the structure of the pose and practice getting your hips over your shoulders. A note of caution, though: the wall can become a security blanket to the point that you can execute a pose next to the wall without touching the wall, but you can’t execute it in the middle of the room because you don’t have the wall for comfort. Once you start getting comfortable with the pose and using the wall less, get away from the wall and start practicing in the middle of the room. Falling down is encouraged! 
 
Exit strategies. if you feel your weight starting to get too far behind you, contract your abdominals to come out of the backbend a little and bring your feet back down to Dolphin, one at a time; if it’s too late for that, press down into your hands as if you’re pressing into handstand and let your feet come down behind you into Urdvha Danurasana. If you’re really falling down in a crazy direction and you’re headed for the floor, TUCK YOUR CHIN to protect your neck.
Building strength and muscle memory. Bakasana is a good arm balance to start getting used to bringing your weight forward over your hands and stacking your joints; it also builds great core strength and awareness.
 
Build strength in your shoulders and upper back. Swimming Dolphin: Start in Dolphin; on an exhale, shift forward bringing your heart over your hands but keeping your hips high; as you inhale, press back to Dolphin. Repeat at least 4x. This exercise is not very comfortable, so I like to actually imagine myself as a swimming dolphin in the ocean and put a big Flipper smile on my face. Sounds goofy, but it works!
 
Practice courage, get your hips over your shoulders. To practice getting your hips over your shoulders, try some 3-legged Dolphin hops: Start in Dolphin with your right leg lifted high like 3-legged Dog; start to shift forward over your forearms, rolling your left heel off the floor, working toward only the tip of your big toe on the ground. Remember to send energy out through your right toes to lengthen and lighten your whole body. Be sure to try it on both sides (it’s good to put these at the end of a vinyasa sequence so that you have a little rest between right side and left side). Once your comfortable with heel-raises, move on to hops. Start with the same action but as you roll the heel off the ground, press off through the ball of your foot and find a moment of balance before bringing your foot back to the floor. If you need a little momentum to find liftoff, you can bend your knee a little to give yourself an extra push toward lifting your foot off the floor.
 
My Photo

Michelle Chambers

I have always been in love with movement, using all of my being to express an emotion, an idea, a prayer. I did this through ballet for many years, until my body decided yoga was a better idea. I soon discovered that yoga was therapeutic not only for my aching back and joints, but also for my mind and even my soul. As I grew in my physical practice, I began to explore each asana as a means of expressing the love and gratitude in my heart. Inspired by this flow of grace, I completed a Vinyasa yoga teacher training with Silvia Mordini to share the freedom and joy of movement through the physical, mental, and spiritual practice of yoga. 
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Handstand Challenge

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Handstands and inversions in general have always been a problem for me. I’m not sure if it’s self trust, or just fear of having my hips over my shoulders, but I’ll elaborate that in a future post.

I’ve studied friends in inversions carefully and taken various workshops to try to get over the wall, but I can’t seem to shake the heaviness that I feel when I try them. Even jumping forward, I can’t seem to shake the fear of putting the weight of my body into my hands. I excel at low-to-the-ground arm balances, but when it comes to throwing my limbs in the air, it feels exhausting and out of reach.

Today I found this article via twitter from the folks over at Mind Body Green written by Lara Heimann:

Handstand Therapy:
1. Get on all fours and push down into your hands as you lift your belly up. Gently lift the knees off the ground and hover, challenging the arms and core. Lower the knees and repeat 5-10 times.
2. In Down Dog, walk your feet forward 6-12 inches, press into your hands, and keep your collarbones spread. Then walk your feet back. Repeat five times, keeping your hands fully pressed into the floor the whole time.
3. For Down Dog on the wall, first come into a Down Dog with your heels touching the wall. Walk your feet up, ideally at a 90-degree angle. With your neck relaxed and arms pressed straight, roll your biceps in and pull your front ribs and low belly toward your back. Hold 15 seconds, increasing the duration to progress. You’ll likely shake, but this means you’re truly building the strength that you need to hold a handstand off the wall.
4. In standing split, keep your top leg at a 90-degree angle, with your toes facing the floor. Cobra the spine forward, gazing out slightly. Press down into your hands, lift your belly up, and lightly press your bottom foot down to push off. Do not kick your top leg. Focus on pressing down into your hands to get off the ground.
Handstands are fun, and are great for the body and the brain. So go and play!
I am going to make my best effort to practice these techniques at home a couple times a week, and I’d love for you to join me! I need to challenge myself to develop the muscle memory to improve my inversions, even though #3 is my least favorite thing to do and the cause of a near panic attack most of the time. But hey- getting out of the comfort zone is where the magic happens, right?
Handstand inspiration from Kinetic Vigilantes:
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Asana of the week: Viparita Karani

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Viparita Karani

Supported Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani

Viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
Karani = doing, making, action

The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like without the risk to your neck.

Step by step:

Getting Into Legs Up the Wall Pose:

Lie on the floor near a wall and practice deep, steady breathing. Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall so that your heels and sitting bones are supported against it. If you have any discomfort in your lower back, adjust your body slightly back from the wall so that your sitting bones are not touching it. Rest your head on the mat or floor, keeping your spine straight, and bend your knees a little so your kneecaps won’t lock.

When using support- If you have any lower back pain, support your body by placing a yoga block or folded blankets on the ground beneath your back. When positioning your support, you must consider its height and its distance from the wall. If you are not very flexible, your support should be lower to the ground and farther from the wall. If you are flexible, keep your support higher and closer to the wall. Keep a gentle arc in your torso from the pubis to the top of the shoulders.

If your neck feels strained, place a small, rolled-up towel under it.

Release the weight of your belly toward the back of the pelvis, deeply into the torso. Soften the eyes and turn them down towards your heart. After you come out of this restorative pose, be sure to lie on your side for a few breaths before sitting upright with your back against the wall, then slowly rising to your feet.

Source/Reference

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Awesome Benefits of Viparita Karani:

Reversing Gravity. The restorative nature of this posture gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, making it good for most any ailment including arthritis, high or low blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and menopause.

Go downtown. Alleviates menstrual cramps! For those of you lacking ovaries, this is also good for your little swimmers- it helps testicular and semen problems.

Feet. Relieves sore feet, legs, and ankles. Unlike sitting, which keeps the blood stagnant in your feet and partially cut off by your bent knees, this pose gets 100% weight off your feet to give them some relief.

Inversions calm anxiety. This is an extremely relaxing pose. No matter what’s going on, if I throw my legs up the wall and give my brain some much needed blood flow, I feel better. More benefits of inversions here.

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I prescribe this pose to everyone I know. Whether it’s headaches, sore feet and legs, anxiety, Viparita Karani is soothing and symptom free. Best of all- it gives you a time out from your day to just be.

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Asana of the week: plow

Hala Asana! Working on getting my back straighter

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Since the past few weeks have been dominated by discussion of power moves and invigorating flows, I decided to select an asana that just feels damn good.

I love plow. I love how it’s normally towards the end of a class so you can tell you’ve crossed the desert and are almost to the promised land of savasana.

There are so many good things going on here:

Jalandhara bandha. Also known as the chin lock, which stimulates your thyroid and metabolism as you press your chin to your chest.

Spine therapy. An amazing, elongating stretch through your back and spine as gravity opens you up.

Inversion. The benefits of inversions are amazing from increased circulation to feeling sharper mentally. A post about them here!

I like to bring my hands to my toes at first, breathe and relax into it. Then I bring my arms to my sides and bind my hands behind my body; compressing my neck to my chest like crazy. A step by step guide to plow pose here.

Watch it. Women on their mentrual cycles should not do plow pose. I don’t know why, I’ve just been told this by many teachers. Anyone know why?

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inversions

Mick Jagger in Salamba Sarvangasana

Uttanita: to stretch or open your perspective by looking at something in a new way.

The simplest way for me to think of the benefits of inversions is to think of gravity. All day we walk around on our two feet, our hearts pumping blood upwards to our brain. It sounds like a lot of work. In college I would spend hours a day sitting in front of a computer and feel completely useless and stale after about 3pm. When we go upside in poses such as headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, down dog and plow, fresh oxygenated blood runs to our head and rejuvenates us. This weekend I took an inversions workshop at Haute Yoga Queen Anne and learned all about the benefits of turning your perspective upside down.

My favorite benefits of inversions:

Can reduce shrinking. Most people will lose from 1/2 inch – 2 inches in height during their lifetime because of thinning discs. An active inversion program can help maintain more of your original height by keeping the discs in your spine supple. I am only 5’2″ I can’t afford to lose any of that.

Improve balance and body awareness. Inversion helps to develop balance awareness, which occurs when the upper regions of the inner ear are stimulated.

Strengthens the core.  Core strength is necessary to stabilize yourself upside down. Practicing inversions force you to engage your core so you don’t topple over, which gives you a six pack, which in turn makes you look like a bad ass. WIN.

Enhances ability to concentrate and remain focused. Inversions help increase oxygen flow to the brain, which consumes 25 percent of the body’s oxygen intake. Working on headstands and handstands builds up those focus and concentration muscles. My fear of falling in class keeps my focus in check in tri-pod headstand. Practicing focus and concentration on your mat will train your brain to stay engaged when it wants to wander.

TIPS-

  • Keep your core and ‘bandhas‘ strong to stay balanced. This will keep everything drawing to your centerline so you don’t look like a twizzler.
  • Breathe/meditate all of your nervous energy out so you aren’t over eager to kick in and out of balance. Do some sun salutations, smoke a joint, shake it out.
  • Use  a yoga buddy or wall to spot you so you don’t break your neck. Use a mirror: Come to three legged dog and look at your feet. If either are splayed or bowed, that’s the direction your leg will want to go in head/handstand. Practice with a straight line of energy from your head to your toe.
  • Think about where you are going. Don’t go on vacation to hawaii and bring a down jacket. Envision where your body wants to go in the pose and move there in a controlled, slow, observant way.
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